It’s hard not to like J.J. Watt. He’s the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and he’s worth every penny. He is coming off another outstanding regular season, and led the Texans’ defense to an AFC South title.
But what makes J.J. Watt special is everything he does off the field. He still spends the offseason in his hometown of Pewaukee, Wisconsin. He’s not flashy, and he’s open about the work it took to get him to his level. When he’s home, he still hangs with his circle of hometown friends, and spends time with his parents and two brothers.
Here’s what you need to know about Watt and his family:
1. Watt’s Grandfather is the Inspiration For His Work Ethic
For all of Watt’s high school games, his grandfather stood on the top row of the bleachers. He sat right in front of the press box so J.J. could easily find him, and was often the loudest voice in the stands. James Watt wore “Pirates” on one suspender and “Badgers” on the other, to honor the teams of Pewaukee and UW where his son and grandsons play football.
Watt cited his grandfather as the greatest inspiration for his work. Watt said his grandfather’s dad was an alcoholic, and that he wasn’t proud of the family name. He worked his entire life to change reputation of the family name, something Watt seriously takes to heart. He’s even said that he doesn’t like the nickname “J.J. Swatt” because it distorts his family’s name.
Watt’s grandfather passed away in February of 2014 after losing a battle to diabetes and prostate cancer. On his final day, only J.J. was at the assisted living center where James passed away.
2. Watt’s Father Has Been a Firefighter For Over Two Decades
John Watt, J.J.’s dad, was a member of the Pewaukee Fire Department for 28 years. John would work consecutive 24-hour shifts, then have extended time off to spend time with his family. John was his son’s football coach, from fifth grade all the way up until high school.
With all three sons, John has been firm in his teachings. He always wanted his boys to try their best, whether it be sports or academics.
“My saying has always been, ‘I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I always expect you to try to be perfect,’” he said in December.
J.J. has recognized his dad’s sacrifices in the past, not just as a parent, but in his profession.
“..As a young kid, I didn’t really fully understand the danger he put himself in..as I got older, finally understanding that he’s basically putting his life on the line every day to help save other people, that really impacted me a lot.”
3. Watt Gave His Mom a Range Rover For Her Birthday in 2014
Watt isn’t known for flashy purchases, but that wasn’t the case in 2014, when he surprised his mom with a Range Rover for her birthday. The truck was parked outside Camp Randall Stadium with a giant red bow, and Watt’s brothers filmed the reveal.
Connie Watt was the vice president of a building inspection company during J.J.’s youth, but now runs the J.J. Watt Foundation.
When Watt talks about sacrifices, he really means it. After a lackluster first season at Central Michigan, J.J asked his parents if they would support him walking on at Wisconsin. They didn’t have much in savings, but agreed. J.J. outworked everyone after transferring, and earned a scholarship before his first regular season snap.
How tough was Connie as a mom? In Watt’s E:60 feature, she recalls giving her three boys homework- in the summertime.
4. Watt’s Two Brothers Both Play at Wisconsin
Watt’s two brothers, Derek and T.J., followed in their older brother’s footsteps. Both played football at Pewaukee High School, but this time the University of Wisconsin was paying attention. Derek Watt joined the Badgers in 2011, and T.J. followed suit in 2013.
Derek was the starting fullback for most of his four seasons at Wisconsin, and the stats don’t accurately reflect his performance. He is a complete fullback, capable of running, catching, and blocking in a traditional offense. Scouts took notice, and Derek was selected by the Chargers in the sixth round of the 2016 draft.
T.J. Watt battled injuries at Wisconsin, but shined in his first year as a full-time starter. After racking up 63 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks in his Junior season, T.J. is ready to join his brothers at the next level.
5. Both Watt Brothers Have NFL Aspirations
Because of the age gap, J.J. never played with his two brothers in high school. But now that his two brothers have joined him at the highest level, the Watt brothers have a chance at going head-to-head.
“He showed us how to do it,” Derek said of J.J. “I think that’s why we’re able to be successful at what we do, because we know the right way to do it.” Derek had a solid first season as the Chargers’ fullback, playing in 16 games and leading Melvin Gordon to a career year rushing the football.
Unfortunately, the Chargers are not slated to play the Texans during the 2017 regular season. As for T.J., he’ll find out this weekend when he hears his name called at the 2017 NFL Draft.